Archive for the 'Travel Journal' Category

Cross-Country Road Trip

At long last, a photographic digest of our cross-country drive:

Day 1: New York to Chapel Hill, NC

Welcome to Delaware

Crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge

Day 2: Chapel Hill to Asheville to Nashville, TN

Breakfast in Asheville

Delicious brunch at locavore eatery Early Girl in Asheville.

Day 3: Nashville to Arkansas

BBQ in Little Rock

BBQ at Whole Hog Cafe in Little Rock. Rolls of paper towels and six kinds of sauce at every table. What more could one ask for.

Day 4: Arkansas, through Oklahoma, to Amarillo TX

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas, apparently the second largest canyon in the country.

Day 5: Amarillo to Santa Fe, NM

Miraculous Staircase

The Loretto Chapel Miraculous Staircase in Santa Fe. I won't go into why it is miraculous. Just Google it.

Day 6: Santa Fe to Arches National Park and Moab, Utah

Colorado somewhere

Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch at Arches National Park

Day 7: Still in Moab — Arches again and Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands

At Canyonlands Island in the Sky

Day 8: Moab, through Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon Nation Park to Zion

Capitol Reef

The BlueBerry at Capitol Reef

Day 9: Zion National Park to Las Vegas

Zion

Zion National Park

Las Vegas

Playing the slots in Vegas. Our machine of choice: Kitty Glitter.

Day 10: To San Francisco!

I had hoped to have a wonderful end-of-trip, arriving-in-S.F. photo, but not only was it raining in the Bay Area upon our arrival, we were aslo greeted by awful traffic crossing the Bay Bridge. So…

San Francisco!!

My Mini-Break Summer

Taylor and I haven’t managed to take a major vacation yet this year, but we have been on a string of lovely mini-breaks this summer.

Perhaps that’s been better off for my mental health, since I was just reading that some research suggests  only a week after their vacation workers have already lost the boost in happiness they get from taking time off (Really, someone studied this?).

Taylor is definitely a big-trip person, with his three month, see-every-country-in-Europe excursions. I usually fall into the two to three weeks would be ideal but I’ll take it where I can get it camp. And living on the East Coast, there are so many lovely and totally different places to go within a two to three hour drive. Usually I like to stick around in the city during the summer, when the nights get hot and sticky and I can wear shorts outside and get ice cream at midnight. But this year I couldn’t take it — the over 100-degree days have melted away my love for summer heat. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’ve done too much Bikram and my body is just telling me No More! In any case, I am seeking escape as often as possible this summer. Here is a roundup of highlights from what will forthwith be known as The Summer of Mini-Breaks.

Boston – July 4th Weekend

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Baby Owen’s baptism, North Shore beach time, fried fish and a delicious affogato-esque concoction of coffee and cream-flavored ice cream. That’s right Megan and Taylor!! My affogato-like concoction was Delicious and had no need for your sugar-saturated root beer. On the way back, Taylor and I stopped at the Framingham Target and Wal-Mart to stock up on essentials. Like cute dresses. And beach chairs. You know.

Camping in the Catskills – Little Pond Campground, Andes, NY

What a perfect camping spot. I can’t rave enough about this campground — beautiful sites, clean bathrooms, good hiking all around and a beautiful lake with ice-cold water that felt like liquid glass.

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Yet again, we found our camping site to be a little bigger than we have need for, given the extent of our setup is a tiny two-person tent and two chairs (see below). I like traveling light, especially when camping, but I am beginning to really envy the beautiful clean tents I’ve seen, the big grills and screened in table areas, the elaborate rope rigging people set up to hang their clothes and towels on, yeah all that crap.

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We’re beginning to develop a camping routine: pack for days, inevitably forget something (last time: pillows; this time: bottle opener), drive 20 minutes to the nearest town to purchase said forgotten thing, set up camp, debate over how to inflate the Big Agnes — our double-wide sleeping pad and a whole other story — and whether it does inflate at all, pasta for dinner, crackling fire that dies three times before we get it going, smores for dessert, bedtime. Next day: repeat, throw in a hike that takes twice as long as expected.

Country Relaxation in Warwick, NY

Forecasts of temperatures going well above 100 prompted us to book a last-minute getaway to a town in the Western Hudson Valley, technically Orange County. I had found Warwick because of its proximity to Greenwood Lake, which is supposed to be one of the nicest in the Hudson Valley. But the weather was so atrocious, we didn’t even make it to the lake. No matter, the B&B we put up at was absolutely lovely, with a sitting room, homemade cookies, a hammock and lots of air conditioning. I always feel like a pretender at B&Bs — they’re meant for stodgy old folks who wake up at 5am and go antiquing, right? But the proprietors were lovely, helpful and made darn good waffles. I still think someone out there should look into a B&B model for young people — and when I say young people I mean 30-year-old-farts like me who like to sit around all day reading with a good stiff cocktail, and would perhaps like to do that in a beautiful house in a beautiful setting but with maybe not so much French toile and Americana kitsch.

We camped out at the Stony Creek Inn all day and night, I did two diagramless crossword puzzles and finished a book, Taylor dutifully worked on programmy stuff all day, and it made me realize how much I miss the country. I may have only been a country girl for four years in college, but it has stuck with me.

Coming Up:

Visiting Erika and Pookie in North Carolina!!

Camping on the Cape, Labor Day Weekend!!

The Berkshires — in planning!!

(I don’t know why I think anyone else cares about my mini-break schedule but it’s gratifying to see it all spelled out for some reason.)

Yoga Retreat in Tulum

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For five days, I did four hours of yoga a day on the beach in a chilled-out, charming beachtown in Mexico. I ate well and drank different kinds of juices at every meal. My arms got pumped (or at least they got sore) and I loved every second of it! Ladycation, you do me right.

I’ve traveled quite a bit in Mexico, both in highly touristy areas and in more off-the-beaten path places. And I have always loved it — the starkly beautiful landscapes, the food, the ruins, the beaches, the mezcal.

Tulum is still unmarred by large, Spring-break-type resorts and is far enough away from Cancun to feel like a totally different world. Apparently, they are planning to build an airport for Tulum — something that, according to my sources, or the guy who sits across from me at work and is also obsessed with Tulum, the locals are not happy about. It’s only an hour and forty drive from Cancun, and the distance ensures it remains as it is — a lovely town that is, yes, touristy but intimate and infused with an artsy, bohemian flavor. Yes, I just want Tulum to stay as is for my own personal pleasure, I admit it. But it will hurt to see yet another off-the-beaten-track place lost to the Spring Breakers.

Here’s a photo of the view from the little yoga studio on the beach — Ok, so this is going to sound annoyingly bougey — but if you’re into yoga and you’ve never taken a class with views of the beach as your point of focus and the sound of the ocean in the background regulating your breath, you’ve got to try it.

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Because I was doing so much yoga each day, I didn’t get to explore Tulum as much as I would’ve liked. I promise myself to rectify that soon! We spent one day at the COBA ruins, took a quick dip in the Grand Cenotes and we spent one afternoon attempting to bird-watch while kayaking through the mangroves at the nature preserve just north of Tulum. (Just in case anyone is clueless to the habits of birds — as I was — they really don’t like to be watched in the afternoon. So really it was more like an afternoon of straight-up kayaking the mangroves.) If and when I go back, I’d like to sample more of the cuisine in Tulum town and along the beach. I heard tell of a cinnamon margarita, which sounds amazing.

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The retreat also gave me a chance to rediscover yoga in a way that I hadn’t expected. Bikram will always be my first yoga love, but our teachers showed me how challenging, engaging, intellectual and rewarding a vigorous Vinyasa flow practice can be. I’m still some months away from getting up into forearm stand and for some reason I have a very hard time with the Vinyasa-version of half-moon pose / ardha chandrasana and always fall out; but I’ve gotten my headstand and shoulder stand strong and I’m getting close to holding handstand for a few moments without the use of the wall.

A Whirlwind, Rainy Tour of Italy

Rome, Florence and Tuscany in seven days. That was our goal, and we made it through, but not without severe exhaustion and a sense of having been everywhere and nowhere at once.

Given that two of my favorite things in the world are good food and art, it did seem like sacrilege that I had never been to Italy. So for my 30th birthday, I wrangled Taylor into a trip.

The more I travel, the more I realize two things: 1) I am getting old. And 2) I am turning into a real New Yorker. Neither of these things are very good. I experienced such jet lag in Italy that I had to take a nap every day and nearly passed out standing up in the Borghese Gallery in Rome. And while we ate wonderful food, I came away from most of my meals with the thought, Eh. I’ve had better in New York. It’s truly sad.

But there are a few things that did meet and exceed expectations.

The Raphael Rooms at the Vatican Museum.

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Yes, the Sistine Chapel was remarkable but it also, well, smelled like BO in there. It smelled like hundreds of people had been crammed in there for years. Which is true. It’s extremely difficult to commune with Michelangelo’s genius while the Italian guard is yelling at people over the loudspeaker to shut up in five different languages.  The Raphael Rooms were also crowded, but less so, and given their smaller size it was much easier to get up close to the walls to take a closer look. I was unprepared for how beautiful this set of rooms would be — truly, it took one’s breath away. Here I am descending the stairway of the Vatican Museum on our way out:

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Bernini Sculptures at the Borghese Gallery.

I had studied several of the Berninis at this gallery, but oh my how different they are in person. It’s difficult to put into words why. They are so heartbreakingly beautiful, so hypnotic and expressive in person, it’s as though the figures are literally coming alive to speak to you. I was so tired during our visit that I was practically hallucinating, so that could have contributed to the otherworldliness of it all…. It was nightfall when we were there, and there is something creepy and mystical about exploring the palace at night — I recommend it.

Gelato in Rome.

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Despite it being cold and rainy, we ate gelato everyday in Rome. We went to the places recommended by all the guide books, but also happened to be staying just next to a delightful small place called Geletaria Teatro that seems to specialize in interesting flavors and is also off the tourist beaten path. People say you can get delicious gelato no matter where you are in Rome, but that’s just as ridiculous as saying you can get good pizza anywhere in New York. Yes, you probably can, but if you go to the best places, it’ll be that much better. My favorites were pretty much everything at Geletaria Teatro, the rice gelato at Alberto Pica (the white gelato pictured on left) and the sabayon at San Crispino.

Rediscovering Tiramisu

Ever since it became some kind of trend at American restaurants, you can find tiramisu almost everywhere in the states, but never have I had a tiramisu that truly impressed me. It usually tastes too mocha-y, too sweet, and the texture is off — overly hard cakiness mixed with overly bulbous creaminess. But at a restaurant in Florence, we had the tiramisu at the recommendation of the waiter — and it was fantastic. The cake part was drenched in alcoholy goodness, but not soggy, it was of course very sweet — but balanced by other liquor flavors. This does not mean that I will be romping all over New York looking for a tiramisu to match, but it was to discover how well the dish could be done.

Home-Cooked Meal in Greve-in-Chianti

We ate with the family that ran our agritourismo one night, and everything about the meal was so delicious. I wish I could recreate it, but I’m sure it would be impossible. Everything was so simple, yet so punched through with flavor. Everything cooked to perfection, (seemingly) effortlessly.

Houston, We Have Liftoff. Thank God.

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So, all I want to do for my 30th birthday is get dressed up, drink a good, strong cocktail and stuff my face with black-bottom cupcakes and coffee ice cream. Maybe I’ll even get Double Rainbow espresso bean shipped in…

But Taylor’s 30th-birthday wish was a bit more, shall we say, adventurous. He wanted to see a shuttle launch. And that meant we had to do it now, before NASA shuts the program down later this year. Planning a vacation around something that could be canceled at any point up to the actual moment of it happening is not the wisest idea. But it’s Taylor’s 30th. So to Orlando we went.

A week out, all signs were looking good for launch. We arrived in Orlando late Thursday night; the launch was scheduled for 2:30pm Friday. We boarded the bus for the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral at 6:30am. SIX THIRTY AM. Let’s recall people that I work nights and when I see 6:30 am it’s usually from the other end and I’m on my way to bed.

Pretty much the entire time from 6:30am until 2:30pm was spent waiting: waiting for the bus to arrive; waiting for the bust to leave; waiting for the bus to park; waiting in line at the Kennedy Space Center to buy blue chairs that say Kennedy Space Center on the back; waiting in line to re-board the buses; waiting on the bus to leave Kennedy Space Center; and, finally, waiting in our blue chairs on the NASA Causeway for liftoff.

Even a few hours before launch, they were still only 70% Go. I spent much of the day trying not to imagine how soul crushing it would feel to get all the way out there and then have them scrub.

Thank the lord, the launch went off exactly on time. Were all those hours of waiting worth the 30 seconds of awesomeness? Eh. I’m glad to have seen it; we witnessed a part of history; etc etc etc. What really made it all worth it was this face (and yes that is a NASA hat he is wearing):

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A Tale of Two Cities (As Seen Through My Stomach)

In my first week in Vancouver, I constantly went back and forth between totally ravenous and utterly stuffed, without any in-between. This is why. My day would begin with a fruitless effort to make it to 6am yoga. Instead I’d hit snooze, and try to sleep for another hour. The emails from New York would already be lighting up my BlackBerry, though, so I’d feel the need to get up and get to the press center, or as it’s called here, the MPC. I’d rush in, grab a bagel, get settled, answer my emails, start getting hit up with projects and blog posts and whatnot, and then before I would know it, it’s 9 pm, all I’ve had to eat is aforesaid meager bagel and some of Phred’s McD’s french fries, and I’ve never been so hungry in my entire life. Or so it feels in the moment. A trip to Subway would then ensue, since I’m not sure where else to get food in downtown Vancouver at 10pm, and then around 11 when I’d finally make it back to the Rads, I’d stuff my face. This is not healthy, I know.

There are only a few food options inside the MPC (and mind you it takes 5 minutes just to get out of here). The very words Far Coast now make me nauseous. I’ve already had McDonald’s for a meal a few times. They don’t serve sundaes at the McDonald’s. So there’s really no excusing its existence. It taunts me.

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Meanwhile, outside of the Canada Place walls, Vancouver is brimming with good food. And as I’ve gotten more settled, and had a few calm days, I’ve actually been able to get out and experience some of that.

Our first night in Vancouver, Adam, Phred and I took a walk down Robson out to Guu With Garlic, which was featured in the NYT piece about Vancouver food and which Abby had recommended to me — and when it comes to sushi, Abby’s word is golden. There are no words for how much I love the food at Guu. That first night, we shared a bunch of small plates: a few kinds of ceviche, Ume-Shiso-Udon, grilled beef tongue. It was all delicious.

I made a solo return to Guu last night (and then two nights later, with Taylor) after we discovered that there is a location in the Aberdeen Mall, directly across the street from the Rads. If I lived across the street from this place, I would never eat anywhere else. I had grilled mackerel with garlic, a seaweed/jellyfish/tofu salad that rocked my world, fresh scallops in a tangy, oniony mayo sauce and, icing on the cake, black sesame ice cream. Yuuuuum! Guu is Guuuuuud. Ok I’m repeating what they put on their promotional materials but I don’t care. I’ll be making it back there before I head home, for sure. (Update: one of the chefs now knows my name. Also, had the most delicious fizzy cocktail involving lychee, grapefruit, wine and “ramune,” a Japanese soda water that comes in a really cool contraption involving a marble that gets pushed down into the bottle when you open it. I love you Guu. I love you.)

Last week I also hit up a hot pot place in the Aberdeen Mall (which is officially the best mall ever, if what you require in malls is lots of good Asian food, slightly trashy looking clothing stores, a place to buy high-tech toilets, and in general not a single white person in sight) with some work people. I’ve never had hot pot at a restaurant before, only at home made by Mom. One doesn’t really make hot pot, I suppose, but the soup, the dressings and the ingredients can make or break it. In our “mini” hot pot sampler, we had delicious fish, thinly sliced beef, tofu skin, these ridiculously good dumplings, ramen noodles and — my favorite — oysters the size of my fist, I swear to God.

This place is a paradise for taste testers and taste mixers (not for you Jim), because they let you mix together lots of different sauces in which to dip your hot-potted food.

Living in New York, I’ve become very spoiled when it comes to food. Nowhere else in the world can you get such a diverse array of delicious food, from all regions of the world, at all price points, in any kind of setting. It has turned me into a real food snob, I’ll admit. The food in Singapore was unbelievable; I still dream about the pain-au-chocolate I had in France as a college student; but Vancouver may be the one place I’ve been that challenges New York’s food supremacy in both quality and diversity.

Vancouver Olympics: Fireworks at the MPC

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My new home: the MPC.

So, no, I didn’t get to go the Opening Ceremony. But we did have a front-row view from the deck of the MPC (housed in a cruise-ship looking, tented building on the waterfront) of the fireworks. It was pretty spectacular:

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Scuba Adventuress Extraordinaire

Me, diving

I survived a bleeding scrape, saltwater-induced nausea, having to cart around tanks half my size and twice my weight, flippers that kept falling off my feet and several encounters with fire coral that left swollen, red stingy rashes on my leg and arm. And partially because I think it makes me sound really tough and brave (even though I’m clearly kind of a wimp), I am now totally into diving and can’t wait to do it again. Seriously, though, there is something really exhilarating about the entire process, and of course getting to see into the underwater world is a pretty cool thing.

Saba: My Paradise

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I’ve traveled to a fair number of places in my life (not as many as Taylor, but still), and I’ve loved most of them in some way or another. I look back over my photos from Croatia or Vietnam and think how beautiful it was; I remember the food I ate in Singapore, and get instantly hungry; I imagine myself in a Vienna cafe and smile; I think about the rich brown-blue beauty of Mexico and yearn for another vacation. I’m sure most everyone has these kinds of memories of travel to share.

But every now and then, there are some places you go that are different. That take you beyond just a great vacation. Places that make you rethink why the heck you are living the way you live. For me, Saba was such a place. I swear even now, a few weeks after returning to the bitter cold of dark, drab New York, I am still thinking about it, still wanting to go back as soon as possible, and imagining myself living there one day. This is not the most reasonable of ideas; Saba is a tiny island of 1,800 population that does not have any of the stuff I love about my (city) life: newspapers, movie theaters, coffee houses, shopping, any kind of food you want and, of course, Bikram yoga. But Saba is the kind of place that really gets into your heart and stays there; that’s my point.

I won’t go into the specifics of the travel stuff, since you can read my thoughts on all that in the piece I’ve written for WSJ and its accompanying slideshow. But here’s video of our dramatic landing and takeoff from the island (Saba has the shortest runway in the world):

Dubrovnik

The bus ride down the coast to Dubrovnik was stunning — the rest stop where we took a break along the way had a beautiful lookout. Once in Dubrovnik old town, we rolled our suitcases along the the Stradum in search of our apartment. Just above a lovely plaza, our apartment was perfection: tidy, ideally located, and outfitted with antiquey furniture and decoration. We paused long enough to change into clothing appropriate for the (finally) warmer weather and set out to walk the old town walls. Though there were definitely more tourists in Dubrovnik than anywhere else we had been thus far, it was still quiet and on our tour of the city walls, we were virtually on our own. We were incredibly lucky in this; I can imagine the experience wouldn’t be nearly as sublime with hoards of people on either side of you.

Dubrovnik was definitely my favorite part of the trip, and though I felt that every day there, every meal, every activity, was a highlight, walking the old town walls would have to top that list. Even at a fairly speedy clip, it took some time to encircle the city — mostly because at every turn and stretch, there’s a stunning view to stop and behold. Part of the fun is imagining what the city looked like when these walls were first built; and how they were used over the years. Part of the fun is peering into the modern apartments housed partially in the walls. I was struck by the juxtaposition of ancient stone with hanging laundry and satellite dishes. As we turned one corner, I espied on the other side of the wall a man sitting on his balcony, working on a laptop. The banal sitting just next to the sublime; modern life layered upon the old city’s historical frame. Here’s how I saw it:

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